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Free Will

Mark Balaguer

Publication Year: 2014

In our daily life, it really <I>seems</I> as though we have free will, that what we do from moment to moment is determined by conscious decisions that we freely make. You get up from the couch, you go for a walk, you eat chocolate ice cream. It seems that we're in control of actions like these; if we are, then we have free will. But in recent years, some have argued that free will is an illusion. The neuroscientist (and best-selling author) Sam Harris and the late Harvard psychologist Daniel Wegner, for example, claim that certain scientific findings disprove free will. In this engaging and accessible volume in the Essential Knowledge series, the philosopher Mark Balaguer examines the various arguments and experiments that have been cited to support the claim that human beings don't have free will. He finds them to be overstated and misguided.Balaguer discusses determinism, the view that every physical event is predetermined, or completely caused by prior events. He describes several philosophical and scientific arguments against free will, including one based on Benjamin Libet's famous neuroscientific experiments, which allegedly show that our conscious decisions are caused by neural events that occur before we choose. He considers various religious and philosophical views, including the philosophical pro-free-will view known as compatibilism. Balaguer concludes that the anti-free-will arguments put forward by philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists simply don't work. They don't provide any good reason to doubt the existence of free will. But, he cautions, this doesn't necessarily mean that we have free will. The question of whether we have free will remains an open one; we simply don't know enough about the brain to answer it definitively.

Published by: The MIT Press

Series: MIT Press Essential Knowledge

Title Page, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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Series Foreword

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pp. ix-x

The MIT Press Essential Knowledge series offers accessible, concise, beautifully produced pocket-size books on topics of current interest. Written by leading thinkers, the books in this series deliver expert overviews of subjects that range from the cultural and the historical to the scientific...

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pp. xi-xii

I would like to thank the following people (mostly family members) for offering helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this book: Ellen Balaguer, Marcella Balaguer, Melchor Balaguer, Paul Balaguer, Judy Feldmann, Michael McKenna, and two anonymous...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-10

In the last few years, several people have argued that science has shown us that human beings don’t have free will. People like Daniel Wegner (a Harvard psychologist) and Sam Harris (a neuroscientist and the author of various “popular philosophy” books) claim that certain scientific...

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2. The Case Against Free Will

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pp. 11-34

I want to start by presenting the arguments against free will. Later, I’ll try to figure out whether these arguments are any good, but in this chapter, I just want to formulate the arguments in the strongest way I can, as the enemies of free will conceive of them.
The central idea behind the...

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3. Can Religion Save Free Will?

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pp. 35-44

It might seem that we could respond to the arguments against free will by adopting the spiritual, religious view of humans. In particular, you might think we could respond by saying something like...

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4. Can Philosophy Save Free Will?

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pp. 45-54

Unlike psychologists and neuroscientists, most professional philosophers believe in free will. And most of them endorse the same response to the anti-free-will arguments. The view that these philosophers endorse is known as...

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5. What Is Free Will, Anyway?

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pp. 55-78

In the last chapter, we distinguished two kinds of free will—Hume-style free will and not-predetermined free will. It’s pretty obvious that we have Hume-style free will, but this isn’t very interesting. The interesting question is whether we also have not-predetermined free will. This is...

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6. Can We Block the Random-or-Predetermined Argument Against Free Will?

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pp. 79-88

Now that we know what free will would consist in, we need to move on to the task of figuring out whether we actually have it. The problem, of course, is that the two arguments against free will (the scientific argument and the random-or-predetermined argument) still stand. And...

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7. Can We Block the Scientific Argument Against Free Will?

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pp. 89-120

It’s finally time to assess the scientific argument against free will and to decide whether it gives us a good reason to deny the existence of free will. In a nutshell, the scientific argument proceeds as...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 121-126

If what I’ve argued in this book is right, then the anti-free-will arguments that have been put forward recently by philosophers, psychologists, and neuroscientists simply don’t work. And so we don’t have any good reason to doubt the existence of free...


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pp. 127-130


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pp. 131-132

Further Readings

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pp. 133-134


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pp. 135-136


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pp. 137-139

E-ISBN-13: 9780262321457
E-ISBN-10: 0262321459
Print-ISBN-13: 9780262525794

Page Count: 152
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: MIT Press Essential Knowledge